Each school year brings new enlightenment and revelation to my education methods, heart attitude, and acknowledgement of the validity of “out-of-the-box” ideas in homeschooling. Since I’m a visionary, I like this consistent reevaluation because it forces me to look at the big picture again and again – and sometimes even reassess the big picture itself. It’s healthy to be reminded of where you’re going and if the destination is really one you want to reach after all. You would think the overarching theme of a firm vision would keep me on track pretty well, but I’ve realized that it can also create a lot of bunny trails that in turn toss all my beautiful organization and executable lesson plans out the window. I find myself often reaching for assurance from the Holy Spirit to guide me through the maze of the incredible amounts of information out there. He is the One Who knows my children and their needs most intimately. If I can only rest as clay in the Master’s hand I will ensure to myself, my family, and my children that they are safest here in His care as well.
After listening to some very encouraging (albeit shocking) podcasts by Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Andrew Pudewa and only having done fourth-grade grammar for three weeks, I have decided that we are going to get rid of our formal grammar curriculum entirely. But let me back up lest you should think I have lost all my marbles! I should mention that we have done two full levels of Rod & Staff English and I have absolutely no problem with it as formal grammar instruction goes. In fact, it is quite wonderful in that it goes very slowly and thoroughly over only one topic at a time (verbs, pronouns, etc.), it has plenty of review, has short, simple, daily lessons, is quite affordable, and is complete if not flashy. I thought it was a dream come true when I finally stumbled upon Rod & Staff after many unsuccessful and expensive attempts at other grammar programs. Helping my children to become excellent communicators has been and still is one of the backbones of our family and homeschool vision. How could I think that putting our grammar books aside would help this in any way? Though we use IEW’s writing programs, I’ve been resistant to the idea that children in the grammar stage of learning really do not need formal grammar instruction other than the very basic mechanics of sentence construction. I’ve continued to press my girls into it despite advice from a growing number of professional educators and English instructors that grammar is quite abstract in nature and is best reserved for when children start to think abstractly. It hit me between the eyes while listening to the podcast titles “But..but…but…What About Grammar?” that English grammar (at least at this stage) is particularly irrelevant to children who are native speakers of English because they already know what good English sounds like (and hopefully are continually being exposed to excellent and sophisticated language on a regular basis via read-alouds and the like). They don’t need to know HOW they speak proper English; they just do it. One thing that IS recommended by Mr. Pudewa is to teach Latin in the early grades because it is within the context of learning a foreign language that English grammar finally begins to make sense – not to mention that more than two-thirds of three-syllable words in the English language have a root somewhere in Latin and Greek. Thus we can also use Latin to create a robust library of vocabulary without having to add yet another workbook. Kill two birds with one stone? I like where this is headed. This information was so impacting that I had to listen to it again with my husband. Pete, who studied abroad in Spain during college and is fluent in Spanish, realized as we discussed this revolutionary idea that English grammar only started making sense to him when he began to earnestly pursue speaking Spanish. The bonus for me is that the girls are really enjoying their Prima Latina studies and the payout for one less subject to drag down our school day enjoyment benefits everyone in this family.
The Lord is moving on my heart to consider this year more than ever the JOY of learning. The less I have to cajole, manipulate, and be frustrated, the better. I have gotten really sick of the girls crying over sentence-diagramming, underlining direct objects, and other such things in all our grammar books. They still look at me with glazed eyes when I ask them to tell me the forms of the verb be. We’ve only been discussing them for the past two years! It’s finally dawning on me that their little minds don’t make the connection between their grammar books and the sentences they speak and write every day. The relevancy is very low, as Mr. Pudewa would say. Rod & Staff will still be a fantastic program to use when the girls are entering middle school, and I anticipate that it will go much more quickly and enjoyably then when they are able to make the abstract connection and have a firm foundation in Latin. For now, I’ve got my grammar handbook and I can correct their compositions to make them “legal” without having to disrupt their creative flow by jamming a bunch of grammar terms into their little heads. However, I will not be leaving them completely to their own devices when it comes to language they are exposed to and use. Reading excellent literature out loud is still a cornerstone to our school day and will remain so for many years to come. In fact, I am inspired anew to continue reading aloud even to the eldest girls, who are completely proficient in reading. They are going into the years where everything they read and hear will be enlightening them with more sophisticated vocabulary and to hear the words spoken aloud will help them develop a fantastic proficiency in the English language.
This lesson was not an expensive one to learn as far as money goes, but quite a bit of time was wasted. I’m glad I got whopped upside the head before I really taught my girls to HATE anything to do with excellent writing. We just don’t need to have tears over grammar anymore. It’s only by the leading of the Lord that I’ve been able to give up something that I’ve held tightly to for the past few years for fear that I would lose control over what matters a great deal to me. But…but…but…what about grammar (i.e. won’t my children be stupid if I don’t make them do a grammar worksheet every day?) How silly for me to underestimate the whole process of home education. In contrast, I probably really could make my kids lose it if they have to copy one more complete predicate. By allowing Him to help me redefine this portion of my curriculum, I am submitting to Him to teach me the better way. Yes, it’s an unknown path to me right now, but this new journey is just a confirmation of so many convictions up to this point. Who knew that homeschooling could be such a journey of soul-searching?